People talking about their lives - in text?
March 12, 2019 8:08 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to find written accounts of ordinary people talking about their lives - similar to StoryCorps, but using text, not audio. Online would be great; books are fine too.

I do know that some StoryCorps stories have transcripts, but as far as I can tell, most don't.

Stories from outside the US would be even better.

Studs Terkel interviews are another great example of the kind of thing I'm looking for. I think I've seen some newspaper columns along the lines of "meet this local person;" those can be good, too, although they're usually not very deep.

Note: I can read Spanish and French, so anything in those languages are welcome.

Thanks to this recent answer to an AskMe that reminded me about StoryCorps!
posted by kristi to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
There are a ton of oral history transcripts at the library of congress. maybe search for the situation you're looking for? (gender, geography, time period, etc.)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:44 AM on March 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is a transcript of folks talking about American beauty shop culture. It's from a lecture hosted by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, which might be a place to look for transcripts of conversations. Maybe the Oral History collection? (Transcripts available as .pdfs.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:44 AM on March 12, 2019

I see that you've mentioned Studs Terkel, but have you read all of his books? I ask only because Studs also was a radio presence, so I didn't want to assume that by mentioning him you've read him.
posted by WCityMike at 8:49 AM on March 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is why I read Humans of New York (+ Humans of my local city) even if it's a bit hokey. I like the snapshots people give of their individual lives.
posted by coffeeand at 8:53 AM on March 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I like this too. What Really Happened to the Class of '93 is a great read in this vein.
posted by limeonaire at 10:04 AM on March 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you like Studs Terkel, you will probably like Barry Broadfoot. Start with Ten Lost Years, 1929-1939: Memories of the Canadians Who Survived the Depression. Broadfoot also compiled oral histories of vets returning from the war, pioneers, and immigrants.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:50 AM on March 12, 2019

I picked up John Langston Gwaltney's Drylongso: A Self-Portrait of Black America in a sidewalk free box ~20 years ago and still think about it sometimes.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:18 AM on March 12, 2019

The occasional Slate series interview with an old person scratches the same itch for me.
posted by terretu at 11:49 AM on March 12, 2019

Your library can obtain a copy of the marvellous Voices of American Homemakers.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:29 PM on March 12, 2019

Nearly 1,000 English Transcripts Added to Visual History Archive | USC Shoah Foundation
To view all the testimonies with transcripts, log in to the Visual History Archive or Visual History Archive Online. Click the box next to “USC Shoah Foundation (51,452)” under Holocaust on the left hand side. Then click the Search button next to the search bar. Click “Transcript Available” on the left to narrow down your search to only testimonies with transcripts. You can also filter by language, either English or German.
VHA Online

About 1000 video interviews with Holocaust survivors.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:54 PM on March 12, 2019

My usual plug for Mass Observation in/around wartime; I'm having trouble finding a good link but here are some good ones to start with. The Mass Observation Archive also has various stuff online, although much of it is members only.
posted by huimangm at 3:01 PM on March 12, 2019

This is why I loved LiveJournal, back when it was more of an online diary/blogging site. You could just hit the random button and land on some high school girl chronicling her life. If you had the patience to read the whole thing, you could learn a lot about people you'll never know, which means you'll get better at understanding people in general.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:42 PM on March 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Your Story, Our Story
posted by Miko at 10:40 AM on March 13, 2019

These are all terrific - I am especially interested in the Your Story, Our Story site and Interview with an Old Person, and a little afraid that if I start poking around at the Library of Congress I'll never do anything productive ever again.

(Also, WCityMike, I HAVE read a fair amount of Studs Terkel, but thanks for asking, because it reminds me I should read the rest.)

Thank you all so much!
posted by kristi at 12:14 PM on March 15, 2019

(Also, WCityMike, I HAVE read a fair amount of Studs Terkel, but thanks for asking, because it reminds me I should read the rest.)

Cool. If you haven't read Working yet, that one was is directly up your alley with regards to what you're asking for here.
posted by WCityMike at 3:16 PM on March 15, 2019

Ben Hecht's A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago (1922) is free to read online. Capsule review from Amazon:
A compilation of more than 60 columns written for the Chicago Daily News that Hecht's editor called "journalism extraordinary; journalism that invaded the realm of literature." The hardboiled audacity and wit that became Ben Hecht's signature as Hollywood's most celebrated screen-writer are conspicuous in these vignettes. Most of them are comic and sardonic, some strike muted tragic or somber atmospheric notes. . . . The best are timeless character sketches that have taken on an added interest as shards of social history. Ben Hecht's collection, as presented in 1001 Afternoons in Chicago, is a timeless caricature of urban American life in the jazz age. From the glittering opulence of Michigan Avenue to the darkest ruminations of an escaped convict, from captains of industry to immigrant day laborers, Ben Hecht captures 1920s Chicago in all its furor, intensity, and absurdity. Hecht's book offers scruffy time capsules of an earlier Chicago, an era that is long gone but still recognizable to readers'' imaginations. Michigan Avenue, Lake Michigan, street names such as Dearborn and Adams and LaSalle and Wabansia, places such as the Art Institute of Chicago--they''re all here. In Ben Hecht's words, Chicago is a razzle-dazzle of dreams, tragedies, fantasies, and his tales capture gorgeous scraps of it, vivid vignettes starring businessmen and hobos and cops and socialites and janitors. . .
posted by Rhaomi at 5:02 PM on March 15, 2019

« Older Help me mine the Internet of yore...first ISP and...   |   Seriously: how hard can it be to buy a memory foam... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.